Sarah’s Redistricting Lesson: The Dastardly Ways (VIDEO)

Sarah Kennedy’s back with her latest installment on the subject of redistricting. With the help of her trusty Connect Four board, she gives us the skinny on the Voting Rights Act — and the dastardly methods that mapmakers have used to dilute the voting strength of minority populations:

 

Despite add-on agenda, Legislature prepares for redistricting task

By Matthew Reichbach

Before introducing the principles of redistricting, Research & Polling, Inc. president Brian Sanderoff joked that many legislatures must be tired of hearing his voice by now before addressing a joint session of the House and Senate. The presentation on the floor of the state House chambers hit many of the same notes he did during the months-long tour of New Mexico, one that some legislators heard many times.

In a nutshell, Sanderoff reminded the legislators that the districts must be compact, contiguous and substantially equal in population. He also warned that districts cannot be crafted in a way that would dilute the voting strength of minorities, which includes Native Americans.

Before Sanderoff introduced redistricting to the legislators, Professor Michael Browde of the University of New Mexico School of Law and attorney Rich Olson of Hinkle, Hensley, Shanor & Martin, LLP spoke of the potential legal challenges that New Mexico could face because of the redistricting plans.

The message was that not passing a plan would invite costly lawsuits, much like the 2001 redistricting plan vetoed by then-Gov. Gary Johnson did. According to Browde, the state incurred $3.6 million in legal fees after Johnson vetoed the Legislature’s plan. The total cost to the state was $5.2 million.

Lawsuits against the state would face an uphill battle if there is a duly enacted plan, Olson explained.

“Where there is a carefully crafted, enacted plan, those who have to challenge stand a fairly serious burden,” Olson explained. “And given that all of the potential challenges are really federal civil rights claims, which only allow recovery of attorneys fees and costs to prevailing parties, careful evaluation by those who might want to challenge, careful evaluation of their chances of success really diminishes the number of challenges that are likely to occur.”

In 1981, there were challenges but those problems were caused “by some difficulty in our translation of the census data into data we could use.” (The use of the “votes cast formula” was struck down in federal court. See Sanchez v. King, 1982.)  In 1991, there were no challenges to the law. In 2001, there was no law and there was “a free for all” in Olson’s words.

A theme that should echo throughout the redistricting debate is that some districts in rural areas will likely need to be consolidated, in both the state House and Senate, and those districts added to the areas spanning from Rio Rancho to the southwest mesa area of Albuquerque. This could cause two incumbent legislators to face each other in the 2012 election.

The congressional redistricting should be easier, according to Sanderoff, because the population changes were “not nearly as dramatic.” Each of the three districts had areas with big growth; the 1st Congressional District has Albuquerque’s Westside, the 2nd Congressional District has Las Cruces and the 3rd Congressional District has Rio Rancho. Only about 22,000 people will have to be moved to make viable districts, according to Sanderoff.

The House did move forward on the impeachment of embattled Public Regulations Commissioner Jerome Block Jr. Speaker of the House Ben Lujan, D-Nambe, appointed a subcommittee to look at the impeachment of Block, a likely occurrence because of Block’s recent brushes with the law.

The subcommittee is made up an equal number of Democrats and Republicans

Odds and Ends:

  • While redistricting was the focus of the legislature today, Gov. Susana Martinez’s proclamation allows for a number of other issues to be considered.
  • The public will be allowed to draw their own redistricting proposals in room 324 of the Roundhouse, while room 310 will house Research & Polling throughout the redistricting process.
  • Because of the difficulty in crafting redistricting proposals, attempts to change the proposals will be limited to floor and committee substitutes. This is because small changes could have large ‘ripple effects’ that would render the maps useless.
  • Special sessions are limited to 30 days by state law.

Drawing the Line for Justice: Engaging Communities in their Democracy

Center for Civic Policy

Once every decade, the process of remapping political boundaries for Congress, state legislatures and local governments takes place. The lines are adjusted to ensure that each district has the same number of people and, as a result, that each person has an equal vote and equal representation, as required by the Constitution.

It’s a process fundamental to our democracy.

In New Mexico, as in a majority of states, the legislature has the responsibility of adopting redistricting plans that equalize the populations of the Congressional and Public Regulation Commission districts – as well as those of the State Senate and House.

The Governor has an essential role to play. For any of these plans to go into effect, she must sign them into law. And she has the power to veto the plans.

All too frequently, the courts become involved. For example, in 2001, then Governor Gary Johnson vetoed the legislature-passed plans for Congressional and State House districts. A lawsuit ensued, and the resulting plan used during the 2000s was handed down by a state district court.

The landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) has been the cause for more court action in defense of minority community representation.

New Mexico felt the power of the VRA in 1980s when the federal court in Sanchez v. King struck down redistricting plans and the infamous “votes cast formula” that the legislature was using in lieu of actual Census population data.

Another legislative do-over was necessitated in 1992, when the Department of Justice found that state senate redistricting plan had created state senate districts in southeastern New Mexico that potentially fragmented minority voting strength.

A Time for Civic Engagement

Because these are the elected bodies that determine the policies to address the issues facing both our nation and state, the matter of fair and democratic representation has never been more vital with the redistricting process. An open and transparent redistricting process helps communities secure meaningful representation.

This is why the Center for Civic Policy is actively engaged in the 2011 redistricting process.  Over the coming months, the Center will strive to meet the following objectives:

  • Provide data, tools and opportunities for historically underrepresented communities to have direct input into the specific plans under consideration during the redistricting process.
  • Promote an open and transparent redistricting process — one that helps to ensure that those who are elected actually represent and are accountable to those who elected them.
  • Encourage the involvement of nonprofits, as trusted assets in New Mexico’s diverse communities, in raising awareness about redistricting.

 

Check out the Clearly NM’s Redistricting Accountability Project (RAP) resource page for a links to  of redistricting data and information. It’s a work in progress, so stay tuned. It will be updated frequently.

US Senators seek guidance on legality of voter ID laws

By Matthew Reichbach

A letter by Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and fifteen other U.S. Senators including Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., seeks guidance from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on whether or not Voter ID laws violate the Voting Rights Act.

New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez and Secretary of State Dianna Duran are both staunch supporters of a controversial change to the law that would require all voters to provide identification before voting.

“These measures have the potential to block millions of eligible American voters without addressing any problem commensurate with this kind of restriction on voting rights,” the Senators wrote in the letter. “Voting is the foundation of our democracy, and we urge you to protect the voting rights of Americans by using the full power of the Department of Justice to review these voter identification laws and scrutinize their implementation.”

“Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act vests significant authority in the Department to review laws before they are implemented in covered jurisdictions,” the letter states. “As you know, the burden of proof in this preclearance process is on those covered jurisdictions, which must be able to show that legal changes will not have a discriminatory impact on minority voters.”

According to the National Conference of State Legislators, 14 states have some sort of voter ID law that requires a photo ID. Seven of these states have “strict” photo ID laws where voters can only cast ballots with photo ID. If the voter does not have a photo ID, they can vote with a provisional ballot but it will not be counted if they do not return with a valid photo ID.

Seven other states have less strict voter ID laws and 15 states have non-photo ID laws.

Three bills in New Mexico that sought to require photo IDs to vote failed in the 2011 session.

In Colorado, Secretary of State Scott Gessler testified before a congressional committee that nearly 5,000 people who were not citizens voted in the 2010 elections. Gessler based the numbers on who voted in 2010 from immigration numbers from five years previous — in which time more then 30,000 non-citizens in Colorado became legal United States citizens.

New Mexico Secretary of State Dianna Duran recently went further and claimed that there could be 64,000 cases of voter fraud. This week, Duran walked back her claims in an interview with the Santa Fe New Mexican.

“Don’t use the words voter fraud, ” Duran told the New Mexican. “I’m just trying to assure the accuracy of our voter files. … It’s not a fishing expedition. It’s not a witch hunt.”

The Brennan Center for Justice wrote that Duran “doubled down” on “dubious claims of voter fraud.”

All fifteen U.S. Senators that signed onto the letter are Democrats.

Redistricting process starts

By Matthew Reichbach

The original Gerrymander - 1812

Brian Sanderoff didn’t say it in so many words but the implication was clear – not all of the legislators’ seats will survive this year. This means that there could be potential races between two incumbents in 2012.

When asked by a lawmaker if his firm, Research and Polling, Inc. had created legislative maps that would not put two incumbents in the same district Sanderoff said they did but did not put it online because they were “too embarrassed to put them on the website.”

The districts were too gerrymandered to be of any real use though Sanderoff said “We’ll be glad to share it for comic relief.”

In other words, don’t count on incumbents being fully protected in the new maps.

This is because while New Mexico’s population grew 13.2 percent between the 2000 and 2010 censuses, the growth was not even throughout the state. The most explosive growth occurred in Albuquerque’s Westside and Rio Rancho. Meanwhile portions of northeast and southeast New Mexico couldn’t keep up with the growth and are in danger of losing seats to Albuquerque.

The meeting outlined the principles in which they must follow in creating districts for congressional districts, state House and Senate districts and other districts throughout the state. The two main principles are to make the districts close to equal in the amount of voters in each district and to follow Section 2 of the federal Voting Rights Act.

The section reads:

SEC. 2. No voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure shall be imposed or applied by any State or political subdivision to deny or abridge the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color.

Attorneys Luis Stelzner and Michael Browde, and Brian Sanderoff, president of Research and Polling, Inc., are assisting the state legislature with the redistricting process.

“With respect to Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, it is a federal mandate that you do not dilute the voting power of ethnic or language minority groups,” Browde told the redistricting committee. These include Hispanics, Native Americans and African-Americans.

The districts “must give minority voting populations an opportunity to make their choice.”

Sanderoff unveiled a series of conceptual congressional maps for New Mexico. While New Mexico had growth in the last decade it did not grow fast enough to be awarded a fourth congressional district.

Congressional districts must be changed to be as close as possible to even which means that the 1st Congressional District, which is centered around Bernalillo County, is too large by 15,546 residents and the 3rd Congressional District, which covers northern New Mexico, is 6,891 over the ideal district population. The 2nd Congressional District, meanwhile, is 22,437 people under the ideal district population.

These numbers come from dividing the 2,059,179 residents of New Mexico, according to the 2010 census, by three.

Sanderoff unveiled eight maps which he said he hoped would promote discussion. When talking about Concept Map D, he misspoke and said it was intended to provoke – however the slip of the tongue might be accurate considering the radical changes it would make.

The Concept D map would place Rio Rancho and Albuquerque in the same congressional district and move the South Valley, a traditional Democratic stronghold, to the 2nd Congressional District. When Sanderoff outlined the changes the crowd in the room audibly gasped.

The map would also move Cibola, Catron, Torrance, Guadalupe and DeBaca counties as well as parts of Socorro and Roosevelt counties into the 3rd Congressional District.

The map would also have all of Valencia and part of Bernalillo county moved into the 2nd Congressional District.

Other unlikely maps were shown just to promote discussion. This included one district which would put Eastern New Mexico into the 2nd Congressional District.

While Research and Polling put forward the eight concepts the committee would have a say in the maps and the Legislature and governor would have the final say in the districts that have the potential to shift political power for the next decade and potentially longer.

The current maps are actually largely based on the maps passed by the legislature in 1991 after then-governor Gary Johnson, a Republican, vetoed the districts passed by the legislature. A judge then drew the boundaries to state House and congressional districts by changing the districts as little as possible.

The state Senate boundaries were created later after a legislative compromise because the state Senate was not up for election until 2004.

While there must be “almost absolute equality” in congressional districts, Browde told the committee, “that rigidity is not required” when it comes to the state districts.

The rule of thumb is that districts can be within plus or minus five percent of the ideal population.

Sanderoff later said that legislators can legally use the plus or minus five percent number as long is it isn’t “for an evil reason.” That is, no gerrymandered districts.

One big concern from legislators on the committee came from possible litigation over the districts.

Attorney Luis Stelzner told the committee that the litigation in the 2001 redistricting cost the state over $3.5 million.

Any voter in New Mexico can challenge the finished maps and a number of committee-members spoke about limiting the cost. Speaker of the House Ben Lujan, D-Nambe, said that in 2001 attorneys, consultants and others from outside the state collected legal fees from the state after the litigation over the redistricting.

This was the first of nine meetings of the committee throughout the state. The final meeting will also be in Santa Fe on August 31 where the committee will seek to approve maps for the special session to choose from.

In 2001, there were 14 public meetings. However the redistricting committee had its budget reduced after Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed $100,000 in funding for the redistricting committee.

The 18-member committee is made up of11 Democrats and seven Republicans. Another 23 lawmakers serve as non-voting advisory members.

The redistricting process faces a completion deadline of October 1. That is the date when petitions to appear on the primary ballot can begin to be circulated. Candidates will need to know which district they are running.

The committee may ask Governor Susana Martinez to issue a special session on either September 6, the day after Labor Day, or September 12. Some committee-members expressed concern that the Santa Fe Fiestas would drive up the price of hotels for legislators not within driving distance of Santa Fe.

Timothy McVeigh, Robert DePugh and the Civil War Pre-Enacters of 2010 (Part 1)

Today, we mark the fifteenth anniversary of worst act of domestic terrorism in American history, the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City by a racist, anti-government fanatic named Timothy McVeigh. The death toll was 168 men, women and children with hundreds more maimed and wounded.

Is there a New Mexico connection?

Hold that thought for a moment. We’ll get back to it.
But first here’s quick pop quiz.   Which one of these icons of the tea party movement — Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Sarah Palin or Michele Bachmann – was responsible for the following urgent call to action:

Our nation has reached a point of no return… Today the chains of slavery lay lightly on our people but with every passing day the chains become stronger and the American people are more tightly bound. We must either break these chains soon while they are yet weak or else we must face an uncertain future, frightful to behold.

…the legal government of the United States has been taken over by the foreign ideology of a socialist bureaucracy. The enemies of liberty have preferred to describe this as ‘political change.’

If we are to win this desperate battle in the short time available we must use every possible weapon at our disposal.

It’s a trick question. The answer is “none of the above.”  Of course, if you substitute “hopey- changey thing” for “political change” then it veers toward Palinism, if not Palinspeak.

No, the author of this rhetoric of extreme national emergency, the kind of thing we can hear daily on the Fox News Channel or KKOB radio in Albuquerque, was Robert Bolivar DePugh.

Continue reading